By Peter J. Smith

ALBANY, June 24, 2009 ( – Despite having been ordered into special session by Gov. David Patterson, the battle for control of New York's senate has now devolved into a vicious political bedlam that has no memorable precedent in the state's political history. The situation puts in legal limbo two bills: one to legalize same-sex “marriage” and another to codify Roe v. Wade in state law.

Both the Republican coalition and the Democratic caucus still claim the Senate's leadership for themselves, but their compliance with the governor's order yesterday took the form of each side conducting their own respective legislative sessions in the same Senate chambers – at the same time. Both claim that the presence of the other side gives them quorum to conduct business, but in the chaos each side shouted over each other, and the leaders of both camps claim that the other side's “silence” implies consent on the measures that they each pass separately. 

That situation, however, places the legal validity of bills passed by either session in grave doubt. That would include not only the same-sex “marriage” bill, but also the Reproductive Health Act, which would have codified Roe v. Wade in New York State law. Abortion advocates once confident of its passage, are crying foul now that the bill's fate appears effectively dead thanks to the June 8 Republican coup.

Today Democrats actually staked out the Senate chambers early in the morning and called the special five minute session to order to call into question Patterson's legal authority to call the Senate without the Assembly as well into an extraordinary session. They then lambasted Republicans for refusing to show up at all in the Senate chambers before finally adjourning at 3:07 p.m. declaring their intention to go home.

Patterson had ordered the senate today to vote on same-sex “marriage” as the first bill out of ten for today's agenda for the Senate. The governor's list had made clear that same-sex “marriage” is a priority, ranking above a measure to impose spending caps, and a farm workers bill of rights.

But Patterson's decree enraged Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx), an evangelical Hispanic and the most outspoken defender of traditional marriage in the Senate. The Bronx Democrat made clear that while he had loyalty to his party, he would do something “big” if the Democratic caucus attempted to bring the bill to a vote, leaving open the possibility that he might defect to the GOP caucus.

As of today's adjournment no vote has occurred on the same-sex “marriage” bill.

So the Senate continues to remain divided evenly 31 – 31 between Democrats and the Republican coalition led by Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) claiming the position of “Senate President pro tem” and Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) claiming the title “Majority Leader.” Democrats disagree and say their “caucus leader,” Sen. John L. Sampson (D- Brooklyn), deserves both titles. Democrats decided to sacrifice Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) as their leader in order to lure back Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-Queens) into their caucus, although Smith technically remains their titular leader.

The battle over the Senate's leadership would ordinarily not be a problem in case of a tie, but New York has not had a lieutenant governor (who would normally cast a tie-breaking vote) since Patterson left that post to replace disgraced governor Eliot Spitzer, who had been caught in a sex scandal involving a prostitution ring under federal investigation.

Legal action seems inevitable, including a constitutional crisis with Patterson threatening to take the legislature to court in order to force a resolution. The State Supreme Court justice in Albany, Thomas McNamara has pleaded for both sides to resolve the matter within the legislature in order to avoid the precedent of the judiciary intervening in the government of the legislative branch. 

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